By Jennifer Barton, Catholic News Service
FORT WAYNE, Ind. (CNS) — Nearly 50 years ago when Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide, a woman in Huntington, Indiana, saw the need to support pregnant women and help protect the lives of unborn babies in her small corner of the world.
Blanche Marie Hunckler helped found the Huntington County Gift of Life, which became the Huntington County Right to Life.
Perhaps it was her love for God or her degree in nursing that fueled her desire to help pregnant women and the unborn, but she gave many years of service for the cause.
Hunckler was on the pro-life board for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend during the tenure of Bishop William E. McManus in the late 1970s and early 1980s; organized fundraisers for Right to Life; and instructed students at the former Huntington Catholic High School about this critical issue so that they could be prepared to argue the case for life.
She and her husband, Paul, raised their children in the faith at SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Huntington.
God’s work for Hunckler came to an end in December 2020. She died at age 100.
But her passion and her defense of life continues to echo down through the generations of those who followed her, particularly within her own family. Her great-granddaughter, Erica, has taken up the pro-life torch.
Erica, who lives in Noblesville, Indiana, remembers visiting her great-grandmother and the first time Blanche Marie took her to the Huntington County Right to Life office as a young girl.
“I didn’t fully understand what abortion was, obviously, because I was so young,” Erica told Today’s Catholic, diocesan newspaper of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
What she did connect with were the models on display showing an unborn baby from conception to birth, “and that’s an image that stuck with me throughout this growing passion of mine, because, to me, it’s so obvious, the humanity of the unborn.”
She described her great-grandmother as being active, even to her last days, with projects piled up on a desk at the nursing home where Blanche Marie spent her last few years. She did her best to continue supporting the efforts of the Right to Life organization she helped establish.
But, due to lack of volunteers, the Huntington office recently closed its doors, though it might reopen if new volunteers can be found.
In her junior year at Guerin Catholic High School, which is in the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana, Erica sought to deepen her own involvement in the pro-life movement and helped revive a Teens for Life group at her school.
“I was itching to do something, especially with changes in presidents and laws and there’s so much going on around the cause that I really thought there was more we could do,” she said.
A new leadership team was established and “we signed a signed a contract with Students for Life, so that national organization has allowed us to be involved in things we’ve never been involved with before.”
The national group’s regional coordinator, Mary Carmen, has helped engaged Guerin students in the cause and provided materials for Erica to use at the school.
Now a senior, one of Erica’s tasks is to manage the social media of the Students for Life group at Guerin Catholic.
She also created a T-shirt for the club and wrote a poem titled “Breaking the Silence,” about the pain of abortion, the arguments against it and the toll it takes.
Her poem says in part: “At ten weeks/ I have ten fingers/ And ten toes./ I have two eyes,/ Two ears,/ One mouth,/ And one nose./ I have a beating heart/ That will continue to grow,/ With love for you,/ And the world/ I have yet to know./ This body of mine –/ Yes — it is my own./ Uniquely made,/ By God,/ I was sewn/ Into my mother’s womb/ So, let it be known:/ I was made/ In the Image of God/ … Let us not forget,/ The parents filled with regret,/ And their need to be consoled./ No rally, protest, or political poll/ Can prepare a mother or a father,/ For the toll,/ That abortion takes,/ On their immortal soul.”
Part of the inspiration for the poem came from videos Erica watches on the YouTube channel of the pro-life advocacy group Live Action; it posts conversations about abortion volunteers begin with people on the street.
She believes that it is important to know the arguments for and against abortion and to have conversations that allow others to come to the morally correct decision about abortion, and not to be coerced into it.
“Something I really started to develop an understanding for through Students for Life is the deeper meaning of how this isn’t pro-women, it’s profoundly anti-women. That’s one of the biggest points that I really want to drive home with that,” Erica emphasized.
While her great-grandmother first introduced her to the pro-life cause, Erica has embraced it as her own.
“It’s not just because the Catholic Church says so,” she said. “They’re not blindly telling people what to do here — it’s really … life is a gift, and it begins at conception.”